Midgard – Tales of Kreia Review

Midgard began life back in 2015 as a one-man project comprising only Skald, releasing debut LP Wolf Clan in 2016. Three years later, four men stronger and with Skald moving to a vocals-only role, Midgard returned with sophomore release Book of Fate. The journey from one-man Wolf Clan to ten-armed Book of Fate was very much one of evolution rather than any dramatic shift and I assume that Skald – now seemingly going by his real name, Klym Apalkov – remains the driving force behind this Ukrainian folk metal outfit. Just a year on from Book of Fate, and back down to a quartet, Midgard return with third release Tales of Kreia. Have Midgard reached Valhalla or are their feet very much stuck on Earth?

Tales of Kreia continues the direction of travel from Wolf Clan through Book of Fate and sees Midgard build their Viking power-folk-meets-thrash-metal sound. Heavier than its predecessors, Tales is the first all-out fantasy record from Midgard. Where their first two albums undoubtedly had fantasy elements, this latest offering is full Tolkien, featuring song titles like “The Ring” and “Ice Spirit.” Combining the stomp, pomp and grandiosity of power metal (“Necromancer” and “Reaper”) with folk percussion, flutes and choral vocals (“The Horde” and “Elven Blade”), and a heavier, thrash edge (“Velmehazerun Dolian” borders on speed metal when it opens), there is a fuck of a lot going on here. There are elements of Ensiferum, As I Lay Dying, Aether and even Wintersun on show across Tales, which at times also borders on the metalcore of something like August Burns Red. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Midgard actually ‘combines’ those bands’ sounds, so much as switches between them though.

When Midgard hit their stride, as they do in particular on album opener “Necromancer,” “Velmehazerun Dolian” and “Reaper,” they exude a kind of vital energy and sense of fun that’s very hard to argue with. Fast, galloping, power riffs do battle with melodic leads and pounding drums, while Apalkov’s vocals soar atop. Sung for the most part in Ukrainian, Apalkov switches between power metal cleans and chants, growled roars and almost hardcore barks to good effect. His cleans are not the strongest – and border on being out of tune in places (“The Ring” and album closer “Ice Spirit,” I’m looking at you) – but the combination and rapid stylistic switches are used to good effect across Tales’ almost-50 minute runtime, making the album feel shorter than it actually is.

The issue with Tales is the lack of coherence across the record. It has a heart of Viking-tinged folk metal but draws on power, groove, thrash and even metalcore at times, without any seeming pattern or logic. To me this is exemplified when “exceptional drama” promised in the promo blurb is interrupted by the farting sound and filthy laugh that opens “Dwarf King.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as comfortable with recorded flatulence as the next ape but that belongs on an Infectious Grooves record, not here. It’s made all the more jarring following the epic folky sensibilities of “The Ring.” Despite the kitchen sink approach Midgard bring to songwriting, there’s a lot to like about Tales, not least its irrepressible energy and sense of fun. All members handle their instruments well, with Roman Kuznietsov’s riffs and lightning leads taking center stage, often combining  well with a number of folk instruments. The production is nothing to write home about but it’s clean and, for the most part, my complaints are few, save for an occasional echoing quality on some of the vocals (“Keeper of the Freedom,” for example) which does not work.

What to make of Midgard? Their songwriting definitely needs some refinement, as does their focus, which feels at times like it’s scattered across the nine realms. At the same time, Tales has a certain charm to it that’s hard to deny. Cuts like “Velmehazerun Dolian” and “Reaper” are downright great fun, while it’s hard not to give a wry smile as the flute or whistle opens “Elven Blade.” This is no classic but has enough about it that I will likely return from time to time and, if Midgard can iron out the inconsistencies in their sound, they could well release something special in the future. They certainly have it in them.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sliptrick Records
Websites: midgard1.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/midgardmetalband
Releases Worldwide: August 18th, 2020

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